With Cincinnati Bengals left guard Travelle Wharton lost for the season to a knee injury, second-year player Clint Boling is the likely candidate to slide into the starting position.
But offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said there are some other pieces that could fit as well, and the team will take a look at all of them in the three weeks leading up to the opener in Baltimore.
“We have some other options,” Gruden said. “We’re not totally lost. But it hurts our depth a little bit, obviously.”
Otis Hudson, the team’s fifth-round pick in 2010, has shown improvement after spending most of the last two seasons on the practice squad. Undrafted rookie Trevor Robinson and second-year center Reggie Stephens also are options, as are fifth-year tackles Anthony Collins and Dennis Roland.
But Boling was the first one sent in after Wharton injured his knee on the third offensive snap of Friday night’s preseason opener against the Jets, mainly due to the experience he got when he started the first three games last year while Bobbie Williams served a four-game suspension.
As a rookie thrust into the starting lineup, Boling struggled. He was replaced by Mike McGlynn in the fourth game and only played one snap the rest of the season after Williams returned.
“Obviously last year I didn’t play the way that I would have liked to,” said Boling, who played every line position except center as a four-year starter at Georgia. “I would have liked to keep starting, but I didn’t do a good enough job and I didn’t earn a spot.
“It was a big learning experience for me, and I know a lot of what to expect this year,” he continued. “I feel that’s definitely going to prepare me.”
Boling spent his rookie season trying to learn both the offense and the techniques offensive line coach Paul Alexander was teaching, and in the offseason he focused on improving his flexibility with his personal trainer in Atlanta.
The improvement has been apparent in the first two weeks of training camp.
“He was one of those people knocking on the door, where you’re kind of going, ‘Man, this guy is on the verge of taking somebody’s spot,’ ” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “He’s hungry and ready for his opportunity, and he’s shown that.”
Still, the Bengals are facing the task of trying to improve a running game that struggled in short yardage last year by starting a rookie at right guard (Kevin Zeitler) and a second-year player with just three starts under his belt at left guard.
“They’re just going to have to learn faster,” Gruden said. “That’s my job as a play caller, to not drop back seven steps all day and expect them to pick up 15 or 20 different blitzes or stunts every series. I’ve got to help them out, too. And the quarterback has to help them out.
“The thing about both of them is they’re both very smart, and they both take a lot of pride in knowing what to do,” Gruden continued. “They’re going to be good for a long time. It might be a blessing in disguise to have those two guys in there for a long time alongside two very good tackles and (center) Kyle (Cook) directing them.”
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